France strengthens up security at home, abroad

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French ministers said on Friday that they were calling up gendarmerie reserves and boosting security at home and abroad, a day after three people were killed in what authorities say was an Islamist knife attack in a church in Nice.

Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said that 120 extra police were being sent to Nice right away and 3500 gendarmerie police reservists were being called up across the country.

President Emmanuel Macron had already announced that 4000 extra troops would be assigned to domestic anti-terrorism patrols and guard duties, in addition to 3000 already serving on those missions.

French embassies were being told to tighten security and French schools abroad should only reopen once they had done likewise, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Meanwhile, locals lit candles and laid bouquets of flowers outside the basilica of Notre Dame in Nice where two worshippers and the sacristan were brutally killed the previous day.

The attacker was taken into custody after police, who quickly arrived on the scene, shot him 14 times and seriously injured him.

As of Thursday evening, he was in a critical condition.

According to chief anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard, speaking on Thursday evening, the suspect apparently had genuine identity documents in the name of a Tunisian citizen born in 1999 who arrived in the EU in September via the Italian island of Lampedusa.

A judicial source meanwhile said that a 47-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the attack.

The man was being held for questioning and was suspected of having been in contact with the attacker on the eve of the attack, according to the source.

Tunisian authorities said they are investigating the existence of an allegedly previously unknown group claiming responsibility for the Nice attack, judicial spokesman Mohsen al-Dali said.

A video was shared on social media showing a man saying he was affiliated with the “Mahdi Supporters in Tunisia and Maghreb” group and claiming responsibility for the attack.

“It is the first time this organisation has appeared. We have never caught anyone affiliated with it nor has it previously claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks,” al-Dali said.

The Nice attack came two weeks after a suspected Islamist beheaded a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb who had shown cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in a lesson on freedom of expression.

The French government’s plans for a broad crackdown on Islamism and its fierce defence of the freedom to engage in blasphemy have sparked an angry reaction in many Muslim countries.

“The threat is strong, too, abroad,” Le Drian warned.

“There is only a small step between virtual hatred and real violence.”

During a debate in the National Assembly on Thursday, Le Drian wanted to send “a message of peace to the Muslim world, to say that France is not the land of contempt and rejection but the land of tolerance”.

“Do not listen to the voices that try to stir up mistrust,” he said.

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